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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The City in Crimson Cloak

Aslı Erdoğan

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To purchase The City in Crimson Cloak

Title: The City in Crimson Cloak
Author: Aslı Erdoğan
Genre: Novel
Written: 1998 (Eng. 2007)
Length: 168 pages
Original in: Turkish
Availability: The City in Crimson Cloak - US
The City in Crimson Cloak - UK
The City in Crimson Cloak - Canada
La Ville dont la cape est rouge - France
Die Stadt mit der roten Pelerine - Deutschland
  • Turkish title: Kırmızı Pelerinli Kent
  • Translated by Amy Spangler

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Our Assessment:

B : often effective city-portrait

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Le Monde diplomatique . 7/2003 Timour Muhidine

  From the Reviews:
  • "La langue à la fois limpide et lyrique d’Asli Erdogan exprime parfaitement la distance de moins en moins grande qui sépare Özgür de la cité étrangère." - Timour Muhidine, Le Monde diplomatique

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The City in Crimson Cloak is a story of being down and out in Rio de Janeiro. The young Turkish protagonist, Özgür, always has the option of leaving the abyss and returning to her homeland, but Rio has a good hold on her. It's summer vacation time at the language school where she teaches, and she barely earns any money giving private lessons, so she's reduced to near-destitution -- but in this city of extremes, with its relentless heat, her hunger, thirst, and general discomfort are almost a given anyway.
       Özgür is writing a book -- yes, The City in Crimson Cloak. It's one way of trying to keep her sanity, of making sense of it all:

Writing meant first and foremost putting things into order, and Rio, if it were to be defined in just one word, was CHAOS.
       She hopes: "to capture Rio like a butterfly in her hand, and to gently imprison it in her words, without killing it", but the delicate imagery stands in stark contrast to the brutal urban agglomeration that is that city. There's violence everywhere, and all the manifestations of the worst poverty: disease, hunger, filth. The bodies of both the living and the dead are literally lying in the streets, and when there are fireworks it's not as some part of a carefree celebration but rather a signal that another drug shipment has arrived.
       The City in Crimson Cloak isn't a wallow in self-pity, or a love (or hate) letter to Rio. Özgür isn't exactly reveling in the experience, but the city has her by the scruff of the neck, and it continues to exert a powerful fascination. The heat makes it impossible to go much beyond a sort of torpor, yet there's an over-abundance of life and experience all around, every action fraught with potential -- including that of the most extreme violence.
       Özgür doesn't dwell on it much, but Rio is a sort of anti-Turkey, and not just because at this time of year it's probably near freezing there, even as the summer heat in Brazil hovers constantly around forty degrees Celsius. She still has her Turkish lifeline -- and wishes her mother had more to say when she talks to her on the phone -- but is also freed from many constraints: she doesn't have to carry an ID, no one notices that she doesn't wear a bra. Still, given how she's living it doesn't sound like the trade-off speaks much in the favour of staying. But she does.
       The City in Crimson Cloak describes Özgür's day, while sections from her writing are also interspersed in the text. What she writes about in her 'The City in Crimson Cloak' resembles what she lives, making for two close variations on the theme. Erdoğan captures the city well: it's not a pretty picture, but it's a vibrant one. The stifling heat, the violence, the sheer arbitrariness of so much comes across very well -- this sense of: "Everything decayed so quickly in the tropics, and revived just as swiftly".
       There's no one Özgür is really close to, no one she can have a real conversation with. The few conversations she does have, such as with her mother on the telephone, are only a very limited interaction. She's frequently wanting to avoid people (often for good reason), and the sense of isolation, of being at sea in a flood of humanity, is prevalent throughout the book. Conditions in Rio -- its apparent lawlessness, as well as a certain carefreeness (that spills into indifference) -- accentuate the feeling.
       The City in Crimson Cloak is an evocative novel, a city-portrait that is particularly strong on the dark underbelly of Rio. The book-within-a-book idea works well enough most of the time, a different reflection of her state of mind and situation, and the descriptions are striking enough that the attempts at more poetic passages usually work well enough. The ending is perhaps an appropriate conclusion, though it feels a bit like a very literary 'way out'.
       An interesting novel of a city, with some fine writing.

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The City in Crimson Cloak: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Turkish author Aslı Erdoğan was born in 1967.

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© 2007-2008 the complete review

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